I signed up for the New York City Duathlon 6 months ago, despite the fact that it would take place during the final stretch of marathon training. What was I thinking?
Well, I’d been intrigued by the idea of a duathlon for a while. A bunch of my running club friends are getting into triathlons, and while the swim leg doesn’t appeal to me (I like swimming, but more in a flopping-casually-around-in-the-ocean sort of way, and there’s no way I have time to get myself to a pool regularly), I love both biking and running, so why not combine the two in a race? So that’s what I was thinking.
But … marathon training. Yeah. I started out with high hopes of getting two quality bike rides in each week, in addition to my four weekly runs, and that worked for a while, but then it was just one bike ride a week, and before I knew it, I hadn’t been on my bike in a month and the duathlon was right around the corner. Eek. I almost bailed, thinking it was just stupid to go in with basically no bike training. But then a friend texted offering a ride to the race (plus support and cheering during it), and someone pointed out I’m really comfortable on my bike, even if it’s gathered a little bit of dust lately, and I decided to go through with it.
The only duathlon-specific training I did was two days before the race, when I convinced my ever-accommodating husband to set up camp (as in, his folding camp chair) in the park and watch over a transition area I put together so I could go through all the motions of the race. I arranged my bike, helmet, bike shoes, and gloves, then took off for a half-mile run. After the run I swapped shoes, got my bike gear on, and rode a little loop of the park. Back at base, I dropped the bike, switched shoes again, and went out for another half-mile run. I returned triumphant and convinced that at least I wouldn’t die during the race.
Race day dawned and it was raining, but not as heavily as it had been earlier. We loaded bikes onto the bike rack, drove to Central Park (it’s easy to find parking at 6:30am!), and started sorting ourselves out. I picked up my timing chip, which goes around the ankle with velcro, racked my bike in the right spot, and fiddled with the layout of my helmet, gloves, running shoes, and plastic bags (for rain protection) under my bike. I should’ve taken my bike out for a quick spin – there was plenty of time – but I was nervous and didn’t really think of it. Participants trickled in – we counted around 200 on the registration list but they definitely didn’t all show up. Everything was friendly and well-organized. An announcer talked us through the course, the national anthem was played over the sound system, I started feeling cold and decided to just run in my gloves instead of putting them on later, and then suddenly we were all on our way to the start line.
Leg 1: 2.2-mile run. The run portion was an out-and-back, starting uphill on Cat Hill. I took off aiming for a pace between 9:00 and 9:30, but eventually settled into more of a mid-8:00 groove. Which was sustainable for 2 miles, no problem, but made me nervous in the overall context. Run 1 official time: 19:34 for 9:19/mile pace (but on my watch, 19:25 over 2.28 miles for a 8:32/mile pace).
Transition 1: Felt reasonably quick and controlled, though untying and retying shoes takes time! 1:11.
Leg 2: 12-mile bike. Wheee! Okay, I LOVE going as fast as I can on my bike. Two loops of Central Park is a hard course, and the hills kicked my butt (see: didn’t train), but I did my best to conserve energy by being smart with my gears. The road was slick and the rain was picking up toward the end, so I was cautious on the big downhills and even braked once or twice. I went through my entire bottle of water during the bike ride. Official bike time 45:55 for a 15.7 mph pace (15.9 mph on my watch).
Transition 2: My first experience of rubber legs. Wow. As I jogged my bike through the transition area to my rack I was yelling, “This feels so weird!” over and over. Then I got to the rack and found a dude in my spot with his bike upside-down, fixing a flat. What to do? I looked around frantically then finally just leaned my bike against a fence, and a volunteer told me that was fine, but I had to grab my shoes from underneath flat-tire guy, which I apologized for (really, he should’ve been apologizing, right?, but I was a little loopy), and I swapped shoes and headed out on the run, took a wrong turn, got sorted out by more volunteers (thank you!), and ran at a weird stumbling pace back up Cat Hill. 1:12 for the transition. I think the wrong-turn business got counted as part of the run leg.
Leg 3: 2.2-mile run. My legs are broken! The rain is crashing down! Everything is uphill! I am so hungry! I felt pretty disastrous for the first half mile but then my legs started working a little better and I realized I was so close to the finish and was going to make it. The rain got heavier by the minute, and my stomach was growling at this point, but I passed a few people and managed to stay at a pace just under 9:00/mile. The downhill stretch to the finish line was fun. Run 2 official time: 19:56 for 9:29/mile pace (but on my watch, 8:43/mile pace).
Results: I finished 60/104 overall, 14/38 for women, and 4/9 in my age group, with a final time of 1:27:50. I’m really happy with those results and with the fact that I stayed strong through the whole race and didn’t fade (much) at the end.
Gear: I wore capris and a short-sleeved tech shirt. This was warm enough, even with the rain. A little padding would’ve been nice – I might look at tri shorts if I do this again. My Giant road bike is nothing special but it’s like my two-wheeled best friend. I rode clipped in with a pair of Giro lace-up shoes, and I ran in a lightweight pair of Brooks. Regular old helmet and bike gloves. Sunglasses were not necessary in the gloomy weather.
Lessons learned: Next time I might bring a little food for the bike leg, or at least put Tailwind in a water bottle. Having friends at the race for support is the BEST. Duathlons are super fun, but you should train for them. I’ll definitely be doing another one.